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Pitt Football: Beginning the Final Stretch

With Pitt's win over Connecticut, the Panthers are now 4-4 overall with a 2-1 Big East record. As the calendar turns to November, Pitt's goal of winning the Big East is still intact should the Panthers win out and if Rutgers suffers another loss (and with Cincinnati and West Virginia still on the schedule, that's very possible). However, the more likely goal for the Panthers is making a bowl game.

With four games remaining, the push for six wins starts next Saturday night at home against a Cincinnati team still unbeaten in conference play. Injuries have been piling up for the Panthers, most notably the knee injury to Ray Graham. Also of note are injuries to Chris Jacobson, Lucas Nix, Matt Rotheram, Salath Williams, Jason Hendricks, and Cam Saddler. Despite the injuries, especially to Graham and to offensive line, Tino had his finest game ever as a Panther, throwing for over 400 yards and two TDs while rushing for another score.

Understand this. Tino is our best option, which he definitely showed with last night's performance. However, he has been unable to throw the ball deep and I doubt he ever will. He can make all the short and intermediate throws and then have his receiver make the necessary cuts and spins to get yardage. If this team wants to take the next step, they'll need a QB who can connect on a deep pass. Can Trey Anderson do that? Can Chad Voytik or Mark Myers?

As for this year's squad, Pitt has to go 2-2 at the very least to qualify for a bowl game. The way I see it, Pitt has three toss-ups and a likely loss at West Virginia (although 13-9 taught us otherwise). Cincinnati and Syracuse are both home games which Pitt could easily win or lose. The road game at Louisville will be the key game over the final four contests. Should Pitt lose to Cincinnati next weekend, the Louisville game becomes a virtual must-win to have a chance at bowl eligibility. If Pitt were to beat the Bearcats, the Louisville game will allow Pitt to have a chance at bowl eligibility before they head to Morgantown and keep the hopes for a BCS bid alive.

For Pitt to do that, they'll have to shore up the defense. During the second half of the Connecticut game, Pitt left a wide open receiver that led to a Connecticut touchdown and let the Huskies work their way back into the game. Facing a subpar offense like UConn's, the Panthers could afford to do that considering the way the offense was moving. Against Cincinnati's, Pitt cannot do that. The Bearcats, for starters, have a good QB in Zach Collaros, who will burn the pass defense if Pitt allows such wide open receivers. The offense also must continue to build on from the UConn game. Pitt will definitely not reach six wins if they revert to how they played against Rutgers and Utah. The running game now is suddenly a big concern for the first time in years. Since Ray Graham is out for the season, the RBs have to collectively become a solid threat to keep pressure off of Tino.

The quest for a 4th consecutive bowl berth starts next Saturday at 7PM on ESPNU.